Saturday, August 20, 2016 LA Flood Reflections

Since the news of the flooding across the river parishes has escalated from the astronomical amount of water the storm dumped in many areas, to coverage of waiting for the river levels to drop and recovery efforts commencing on a massive scale, it has nudged me back into where I was in 2005 and 2006.  The emotional roller coaster that is worrying, recovery, and its aftermath.  I divide it into two categories:  cookies and crumbs.
First, the crumbs.  I'm right there with every emotionally draining moment the current flood victim is dealing with.  Media coverage is not enough or not accurate.  Taking too long to get a response on FEMA money and on insurance adjusters coming out to inspect damage.  Worrying about how co-workers made out, if relatives are okay, and if anyone heard from the neighbors.  You can't help but mentally rewind back to the moments before the storm was broadcast.  Everything was antiseptically normal from your routine at work to the to-do list that maybe you'll get to next weekend.  If the storm had only moved in a different direction, you could have been spared.  Instead, everyone else gets to live a normal, carefree life except you.  I understand that mindset.
I won't go into the full accounting of my Katrina experience, but the emotional moments are conjured up with the recent crisis.  Post-Katrina, I lost my mind at a Sprint customer service representative for a late charges and overages, as though life was normal.  I think I had three tires replaced within a month of being home due to the construction debris on the roadways.  All aspects of life fed into one continuous bad mood:  no cable, not finding a grocery store without mold growing up the wall, and waking up everyday as though nothing had improved.  Katrina fatigue on the news didn't match the one in my soul.  That one was much darker.
Post-Katrina, I had a house that had limited damage, a job to return to, and I didn't lose a loved one -- the triumvirate of being blessed.  Many I knew lost everything.  Those who haven't lost anything have a hard time fathoming that everything can't be purchased with an insurance check or a gift card.  When the milestones of your time upon this Earth -- school pictures, 3rd place trophies, the birthday cards you meant to scrapbook, every stitch of clothing that was yours -- is in a moldy, muddy heap making up the floor that was once your living room, you understand what irreplaceable means.
By the calendar, I was back to a normal routine by mid 2006 after being home and working full-time.  But feeling normal couldn't be marked on the calendar or timed with a stopwatch.  For months, even years afterward, I was still in some form of survival mode.  One example was not hanging pictures for fear of "leaving them behind".  From June to November, my hobby was watching every spaghetti model and cone of uncertainty on a hurricane map to see if I needed to pack up the car and evacuate at any given moment.  You feel like you have to fight everything for anything.  And you wind up fighting yourself. 
Where were the cookies?  They were there at the time, but I was too consumed in survival to really notice or fully appreciate them.  Cookies came in the form of friends who sent money, gift cards, and offered to do anything before I asked.  They were in the strangers who bought our meals, visited with us at the hotel we were holed up in for awhile, and kept us in their prayers.  They were people who actively searched for me, those who wouldn't get off the phone with me until I told them what I needed, and the local coffee shop owner who said "I noticed your absence" while I away.
The best litmus test on moving on was from a talk I had with Aunt Jeanette, a wonderful family friend.  She lost everything in Andrew.  She said that when she reached the ten-year anniversary of Andrew, she didn't mentally mark it.  She didn't realize it was coming up.  Every other year she counted down the months and days until the anniversary occurred.  I did that with Katrina up until a few years ago.  You cannot give normalcy or peace of mind to someone.  It will come to them in a time frame that is agonizingly slow.
Those dealing with the ramifications from the flood are in their own personal hell:  getting the kids into a routine, trying to balance a work life with every other waking moment dealing with cleaning, insurance, and putting the pieces back together.  Give them space.  Offer to help.  Provide them an open door to comfort or advice if they want or need it.  It's easy to jump in and go through the blueprint of your own emotional experience in disaster recovery.  Those dealing with the ramifications from the flood shouldn't have to deal with another person's emotional life lessons.  Doesn't matter if this their first or if they went through Katrina or another storm.  They're emotionally drained and would just like help.
Another big cookie is the immediate response from the local community to help.  Currently non-profit organizations are collecting everything from non-perishable food items, school supplies and uniforms, and rubber boots.  Corporations are raising money for non-profits such as the United Way, Red Cross, and Second Harvesters Food Bank.  The company I work for had co-workers volunteer to cook hundreds of meals, transport them to fire stations and the Lamar Dixon Center, and serve food to the communities.  We have collected food for animals, diapers, toiletries, clothes, and cleaning supplies.  Local colleges and faith-based organizations have volunteers to clean out houses, take care of pets in shelters, and transport goods.  Fundraisers for the relief are ongoing.
This past week I purchased a variety of items:  bags of rice, dry beans, boxes of macaroni and cheese, bars of soap, antibacterial wipes, many cans of Chef Boyardee meals, jars of peanut butter, and toothbrush packs.  I brought them to work for distribution to a church organization in Denham Springs.  Next weekend I'm going to survey the volunteer opportunities and help out where I can.  Supporting humanity in need is better than screaming rants or practicing apathy.
We can get caught up in the spirit of giving and helping others without realizing this is not something that will end once we get distracted by football season or the Labor Day weekend.  The number of communities have widespread damage, and the overlap needs to be in place to take care of those who transition from shelter to temporary housing to back home.  Please consider making a donation of time, money, or goods on a regular basis for the time being.  If everyone gave a little, it would mean so much to many.  And that is the sweetest cookie of all.